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December 3, 2000 - Grammar Lady: SANAM - 2002-02-01

INTRO: Grammar is the issue this week for our Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti. They start off with a question from a listener in Vietnam.

AA: Nguyen Tang Thanh Binh poses this question by e-mail: "What's the differences between these two sentences: 'There were no students in the classroom, and 'There was no student in the classroom.'"

RS: For our answer, we turn to Mary Newton Bruder, better known as Grammar Lady, as in She says the two sentences are pretty much the same --


MB: " ... except in context. If you say 'there were no students in the classroom,' you have the expectation that the classroom should be full of students and they either hadn't come yet, or they left, and there were no students there. If you said 'there was no student in the classroom,' I think that the expectation is that there is a group of adults here, maybe it's the faculty having a meeting, and there is no student in the classroom. So, you are making the emphasis on one singular student. The more common phrase would certainly be in the plural."

AA: "Is this a common question you get from people?"

MB: "No, I haven't seen this before. (But) I do get a lot of questions with 'everybody' and 'everyone.' They want to know the difference between 'Everybody is going,' and 'Everyone is going.'

AA: "What is the difference?"

MB: "There isn't any.."

AA: "How about with none (as in) 'None of the passengers on the bus was injured,' or 'None of the passengers on the bus were injured." Which would you choose?"

MB: "I would choose 'were' because basically what you want to say is 'All of the students were safe.' When 'none' means not one, then it is singular. Let's see if I can give you an example. 'Three candidates were running for sheriff. None is qualified.' In this case you are singling out each individual person, and you are saying no one of these is qualified. But generally, the verb after none is governed by the word that comes after it. So you (can) say, 'None of the milk is spoiled, but, 'None of the eggs are rotten.'"

RS: There's a way to help you remember when a verb should be singular or plural. Grammar Lady Mary Newton Bruder says, just think "SAMAN!"

AA: S-A-M-A-N or "S" for "some," "A" for "any," "M" for "most," "A" for "all" and "N" "none."

RS: The noun that follows each of these words governs the verb. If the noun is singular, the verb is singular. If the noun is plural, the verb is plural. Got that?


MB: "So if you say, 'Some of the books are green, (and) 'Some of the food is delicious.'

AA: "You wouldn't say some of the food are delicious."

MB: "Right!"

AA: "You would say 'some of the brownies are delicious,' or 'some of the pastries are delicious.'

MB: "Yes, it's the pastries, the brownies and the food that determine what the verb is."

RS: "So, 'most of the girls are pretty.'"

MN: "Right. And, most of the music is loud.

AA: "But in general though the conventional rule is . . ."

MB: "The conventional rule is that the object of the preposition is not the subject of the sentence."

AA: "Give us an example."

MB: "An example would be 'the members of the team are gone.' So, members is what governs the verb."

RS: "(But the exception would be with) 'Some, any, most, all or none.' 'None of the candidates is acceptable.'

MB: "Well, with none it can be either (is or are) depending on whether you mean no single one or whether you mean all of the above aren't."

AA: "There are people who argue about this, that none is always singular."

MB: "Right that one can go either way."

AA: "What about the word 'couple'? Would it be 'the couple is happy' or 'the couple are happy'?"

MB: "My example for that one is, 'The couple is getting married on Saturday. The couple are divorcing next month.'

RS: "They were one and then they were two!"

MB: "Right!"

RS: Our thanks to Mary Newton Bruder, on the Internet at, and coming to us from the studios of WQED radio in Pittsburgh do we need to say that?. You can send your questions -- for Grammar Lady or for us - to VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA.

AA: Our e-mail address is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC -- "It's You or No One"/Doris Day